Polylogism is the notion that different groups of people have different and incompatible modes of logic. Polylogism is a false axiom used in many ideologies (Marxism, etc) to form the basis of irreconcilable differences between the different groups.
All humans are fallible rational actors. They choose the course of action they believe will increase their subjective standard of living at their lowest subjective cost. Differences are not the result of different modes of logic, but rather the result of different subjective values or relative positions within an exchange. The implication is that humans can and do seek out mutually beneficial exchanges and participate in the division of labor for their own benefit.
Origin of the concept
Until the middle of the nineteenth century no one ventured to dispute the fact that the logical structure of mind is unchangeable and common to all human beings. All human interrelations are based on this assumption of a uniform logical structure. Men enter into discussions; they speak to each other; they write letters and books; they try to prove or to disprove. Some men can think deeper and more refined thoughts than others. There are men who unfortunately cannot grasp a process of inference in long chains of deductive reasoning. But as far as a man is able to think and to follow a process of discursive thought, he always clings to the same ultimate principles of reasoning that are applied by all other men. There are people who cannot count further than three; but their counting, as far as it goes, does not differ from that of Gauss or Laplace. Daily, it is true, people violate logical principles in reasoning. But whoever examines their inferences competently can uncover their errors.
Yet, in the course of the nineteenth century this had been contested. Marx and the Marxians, foremost among them the "proletarian philosopher" Dietzgen, taught that thought is determined by the thinker's class position. What thinking produces is not truth but "ideologies." This word means, in the context of Marxian philosophy, a disguise of the selfish interest of the social class to which the thinking individual is attached. It is therefore useless to discuss anything with people of another social class. Ideologies do not need to be refuted by discursive reasoning; they must be unmasked by denouncing the class position, the social background, of their authors. Thus Marxians do not discuss the merits of physical theories; they merely uncover the "bourgeois" origin of the physicists.
The Marxians have resorted to polylogism because they could not refute by logical methods the theories developed by "bourgeois" economics, or the inferences drawn from these theories demonstrating the impracticability of socialism. As they could not rationally demonstrate the soundness of their own ideas or the unsoundness of their adversaries' ideas, they have denounced the accepted logical methods. The success of this Marxian stratagem was unprecedented. It has rendered proof against any reasonable criticism all the absurdities of Marxian would-be economics and would-be sociology. Only by the logical tricks of polylogism could etatism gain a hold on the modern mind.
Polylogism is so inherently nonsensical that it cannot be carried consistently to its ultimate logical consequences. No Marxian was bold enough to draw all the conclusions that his own epistemological viewpoint would require. The principle of polylogism would lead to the inference that Marxian teachings also are not objectively true but are only "ideological" statements. But the Marxians deny it. They claim for their own doctrines the character of absolute truth. Thus Dietzgen teaches that "the ideas of proletarian logic are not party ideas but the outcome of logic pure and simple." The proletarian logic is not "ideology" but absolute logic. Present-day Marxians, who label their teachings the sociology of knowledge, give proof of the same inconsistency.
We may reasonably assume as hypothesis that man's mental abilities are the outcome of his bodily features. Of course, we cannot demonstrate the correctness of this hypothesis, but neither is it possible to demonstrate the correctness of the opposite view as expressed in the theological hypothesis. We are forced to recognize that we do not know how out of physiological processes thoughts result. We have some vague notions of the detrimental effects produced by traumatic or other damage inflicted on certain bodily organs; we know that such damage may restrict or completely destroy the mental abilities and functions of men. But that is all. Polylogism cannot be derived from physiology or anatomy or any other of the natural sciences.
Neither Marxian nor Nazi polylogism ever went further than to declare that the logical structure of mind is different with various classes or races. They never ventured to demonstrate precisely in what the logic of the proletarians differs from the logic of the bourgeois, or in what the logic of the Aryans differs from the logic of the Jews or the British. It is not enough to reject wholesale the Ricardian theory of comparative cost or the Einstein theory of relativity by unmasking the alleged racial background of their authors. What is wanted is first to develop a system of Aryan logic different from non-Aryan logic. Then it would be necessary to examine point by point these two contested theories and to show where in their reasoning inferences are made which — although correct from the viewpoint of non-Aryan logic — are invalid from the viewpoint of Aryan logic. And, finally, it should be explained what kind of conclusions the replacement of the non-Aryan inferences by the correct Aryan inferences must lead to. But all this never has been and never can be ventured by anybody. Polylogism, whether Marxian or Aryan, or whatever, has never entered into details.
The term 'proletarian logic' is sometimes taken as evidence of polylogism. This term is usually traced back to Joseph Dietzgen in his 11th letter on logic. Dietzgen is the now obscure philosophical monist of the 19th century who coined the term 'dialectical materialism' and was praised by seminal communist figures such as Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin. His work has received modern attention primarily from the philosopher Bertell Ollman. As a monist and materialist, Dietzgen insisted upon a unified treatment of mind and matter. As Simon Boxley puts it, for Dietzgen "thought is as material an event as any other". This means that to him logic also has "material" underpinnings.
Men and women have obvious (and not so obvious) physical and psychological differences that affect the values and relative positions of large groups of individuals. Members of both sexes seek to improve their standard of living, and differences do not make cooperation impossible.
Statist conservatives and statist liberals have similar values, but seek a superior position in the political machine. Differences are primarily due to relative position, and friends and enemies change with time. [TODO: Reference relevant section in Betrayal of the Right and material on the Standard oil people VS other side]
- Ludwig von Mises. "2. The Logical Aspect of Polylogism", Chapter III. Economics and the Revolt Against Reason from the online version of Human Action. See also sections 2 and 3. Referenced 2010-08-12.
- Ludwig von Mises. "Omnipotent Government: The Peculiar Characteristics of German Nationalism" from Omnipotent Government, 6. Polylogism. Referenced 2010-07-09.
- Emmett, Dorothy, 1928, "Joseph Dietzgen: The Philosopher of Proletarian Logic," Journal of Adult Education 3, pp.26–35
- The Positive Outcome of Philosophy; Letters on Logic, Especially Democratic Proletarian Logic.
- A Dictionary of Marxist thought
- Polylogism on Wikipedia
- Marxism without Polylogism by Jeffrey A. Tucker, excerpted from Freedom, Property, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
- Hermeneutic Economics: Between Relativism and Progressive Polylogism (pdf) by Pierre Perrin, 2005
- Polylogism from the Ayn Rand Lexicon
- Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action (pdf) by Roderick T. Long
- The Ideological Impregnation of Thought by Ludwig von Mises, excerpted from Theory and History